Here. We. Go.
No more talk about what might happen, or what could happen. Or what might happen. Now it’s here, and something will happen. Will Texas look like you want them to? Will they look like I want them to? More importantly, will they look like Charlie Strong wants them to? Everything has changed and now we finally get to see what it looks like. As I write this we are a mere hours away from the start of the college football season and I cannot wait. I am excited, a bit nervous, a bit confident, a bit anxious and really, really tired of the headlines being dominated by which quarterback will start for a 4-12 NFL team. Let’s go!
We are going to change the format for this season starting in week two. Instead of one long email on Wednesday, you will now get a review of the prior game/Big 12 games on Monday and a preview of the upcoming game/Big 12 games on Thursday. This will give you a more timely look back and a more thorough look forward, and it won’t be so darn long. Personally by Wednesday I’m past the week before anyway and looking ahead, so if you are like me you probably want to see what happened sooner, so that’s what we are going to do. Okay, on to week one!
North Texas Mean Green @ No.24 TEXAS
The Mean Green won nine games and their bowl game last year, two things the Longhorns did not do, and seem to be on their way to perennial Conference USA Title contenders. Former Iowa State head coach Dan McCartney did the same things Charlie Strong is doing at Texas when he took over in Denton four years ago: changing attitudes, changing expectations and changing the culture. The result was a 9-4 season and a dominant win over UNLV in the Heart of Texas Bowl. Now the big question is can they take the next step this fall? More importantly, will they be able to carry over their bowl game success to Austin on Saturday night?
And then there’s Texas. We all know what’s happened around here in the last eight months. Let’s dive into Texas vs. North Texas, starting with the visitors.
They aren’t coming in here to compete and win any moral victories. They are coming in here to win the game. Some may think that’s silly, but no player or team goes into any game expecting to lose. This Saturday will be no different. They are coming to DKR with an upset win as the goal. If Texas does not match their intensity and expects to roll their helmets out there and win, their will be trouble. Is there any chance of that happening?
Absolutely not. But that doesn’t mean the Mean Green won’t present some problems. Let’s take a look at what they will bring to the table, starting with the O.
There is good news and bad news. Let’s start with the good news: four of five starters return up front. including Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound senior Lemon was All Conference USA last year and moves out to fill the lone empty spot at right tackle. He’s going to get some looks at the next level because of his size and versatility and his ability to run block. He’s been inside at guard for most of his career, but the transition outside should be pretty easy for him. Inside at guard is the 6-foot-2, 297-pound Y’Barbo, also a senior and also an All Conference USA performer. He’s very physical and despite having center size, he excels at the guard spot. Even the new starter at guard (replacing Lemon) is not inexperienced, and they have veteran depth to spell the starters. The OL will be the strength of this team, paving the way for two running backs, Antoinne Jimmerson and Reggie Pegram. The pair were back ups to a 1,000-yard rusher Brandin Byrd last year, but still combined for 853 yards and 13 touchdowns. The nearly identical in size at 5-foot-9 with Pegram a little heavier at 230 pounds (Jimmerson is 222). Both are short, powerful backs that will let their offensive line to the heavy lifting and try and pound on the second level of the defense (lb’s, secondary) to control the clock and move the chains. These backs, and this line, need to control the line of scrimmage if UNT plans to be in this game…
… Because there is no experience at quarterback. None. The two back ups to last year’s starter Derek Thompson threw 12 total passes combined, and Derek Thompson is done (graduation). Now the job falls to either Josh, Gree Andrew McNulty or Dajon Williams. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound junior McNulty was the backup last season while the 6-foot-3, 202-pound Williams took a redshirt. McNulty had the inside track in the spring with a fraction more experience, but he couldn’t separate from the Pflugerville native Williams, or Josh Greer, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound juco transfer. Greer is obviously the biggest and has the best arm of the three and as of Tuesday morning he will be the starter. If it were me I am growing with the ground-oriented offense and a mobile guy like Williams. But they didn’t ask me.
There is some talent outside for these quarterbacks in Texas transfer Darius Terrell and returning starter Carlos Harris, who had 47 catches and 553 yards receiving last year, which was third on the team. The two compliment each other well as Harris is the smaller slot receiver (5-foot-8, 183 pounds) while Terrell is a physical outside presence (6-foot-3, 215 pounds). Harris can break some screens and force Texas to tackle in the open field while Terrell is going have a size advantage over all of the Texas db’s. There are others, of course, but these two are the ones that the passing game will likely lean on.
But the Green don’t want to lean on the passing game. They want to control the line of scrimmage, run the ball and keep the Texas offense on the sideline. They want the Longhorns to commit everyone to stopping the run and then hit them with some bubble and jailbreak screens to Harris and deep shots to Terrell and other targets and catch Texas over-committing to the run. They want to run screens to the backs as well, and if they took my approach lots of quarterback keepers and draws to keep the defense in the middle of the field honest. Bottom line is if they cannot run, they cannot win. And they will not be able to run enough.
This has trouble written all over it for the fans of UNT, despite some talent in the back seven. Seven starters are gone off the defense, including all four starters on the defensive line. They were solid last year up front, but they don’t return anyone that I would consider a difference maker at this point. It will be tough for them to keep the linebackers clean and allow them to make plays. But if they can, they have some talent at lb.
Led by 6-foot, 242-pound senior Derek Akunne, the linebacking unit has talent. Flanked by a Buffalo transfer (Blake Bean) and an Oregon transfer (Anthony Wallace), the all-conference Akunne should step into the leadership role of Zach Orr, the all-everything lb for North Texas last year. I think these guys will be solid, but they need a lot of help up front for that to happen, and I don’t see them getting very much on Saturday night.
In the secondary both corners return as does an All-Conference safety, but the Mean Green gave up 2,966 yards passing last year and 18 passing td’s. Still, experience is nice and with the return Kenny Buyers and James Jones at corner, as well as 5-foot-10, 197-pound senior Laramie Lee at safety, they have experience to deal with the Texas passing attack. But a non-existent pass rush will all but negate their experience if they are asked to cover for five seconds, and never mind them having to play at the line of scrimmage to deal with the Texas running game.
This d-line is going to be a monster problem for UNT. They need them to control the Texas ol and allow their lb’s to make plays in the running game, as well they will need to get a pass rush to allow the experienced secondary the chance to pick off errant passes in the new Texas offense when the opportunity arises. I just don’t think they will be able to do that consistently (or at all) and North Texas will need to commit everyone to stopping the run. That usually doesn’t end well. Saturday will be no exception.
Solid to very good in most areas, spectacular in a few others. Points kicker Zach Paul was 10-15 on field goals last year with a long of 48 and one blocked. Punter Blake Macek averaged 41.1 yards per punt last year, and the coverage teams were outstanding, allowing 21.3 yards per kickoff return and 6.3 yards per punt return (spectacular). Their primary kick returner had graduated, as did his two td returns, but the block teams got three for touchdowns last year (spectacular).
With the kicker, punter and block team (mostly) returning, North Texas needs to find a good return man to replace the talent lost. But I have to think they are confident they can get to at least one of the Texas kickers, who are very inexperienced.
Expect them to bring the heat on the Texas kickers, it’s easiest way for them to turn the tide of a game.
Remember, everything will change. This won’t look like a Texas team of the past, because it isn’t a Texas team of the past. All the tendencies, tells and patterns you (and the opponents) are used to aren’t there. But there are some things you can expect to see. Let’s take a look.
Remember, also, there will be some suspensions in game one. Starting tackle Desmond Harrison and wideout/kick returner/running back Daje Johnson are out at least one game (I think that will be the end of it and they will be back next week) but it will change the dynamics for game one. I expect Kent Perkins and/or Darius James to replace Harrison this week and Armanti Foreman to fill in Johnson’s role. Assuming Perkins is healthy. He missed two days of practice in the last week, so we will see.
The good news is Jaxon Shipley is back and should be fully participating on Saturday, so aside from Johnson Texas should have it’s full complement of weapons, plus some new ones, at David Ash’s disposal.
This night should be about Texas hammering the inexperienced North Texas dl and Malcolm Brown and J.Gray getting the ball. A lot. Could both be in store for 100-yard days? Yes they could.
Running game rules the day… If the ol holds up. They get the benefit of a new and inexperienced d-line to play, but these are still D-I opponents and if the offensive line struggles, it opens the door for doubt. No doubts, boys. Handle your business and let the NFL backs do work.
Simple. Stop the run and make the new UNT quarterbacks throw the ball, which will unleash hell in the form of Cedric Reed and Malcolm Brown as pass rushers. It’s always easier to diagnose than to apply, but if Texas can control the North Texas running game this night is over very early.
They will do that, but not from the start. I think the talented ol will make a few holes and the Green will have a nice drive or two, but adjustments will shut that down and it’s good night.
This defense will look like you want it to.
No North Carolina State in 1999. Just no. The less I have to write about special teams next week, the better. An uneventful week where no mistakes are made is fine with me.
I think Texas comes out excited and a bit nervous. It’s all new for the team, too. Meanwhile this is not new for North Texas, who knows who they are and what they do. I could see them being a little more grounded early as Texas has some butterflies before settling down and dictating the game with a great dl and running game.
No special teams mistakes. And where is everyone going pre-game? I plan and roaming far and wide. Maybe I’ll see you!
THIS WEEK IN THE BIG 12
Saturday, August 30th
North Dakota State (I-AA team) @ IOWA STATE 11AM Fox Sports 1
I do not write about I-AA teams playing division I teams because it’s not fair. They shouldn’t be allowed to do it. There are plenty of I-A teams that need checks and they have the same number of scholarships and similar facilities… That being said, Cyclone is in TROUBLE.
Samford (I-AA team) @ TCU 6pm
Central Arkansas (I-AA team) @ TEXAS TECH 6pm
Stephen F. Austin (I-AA team) @ No.20 KANSAS STATE 6:10 pm
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs @ No.3 oklahoma 6pm
The big news this week was DGB was denied his appeal by the NCAA and will not be playing for ou this fall (or next fall as he almost surely will declare for the NFL draft). And 5-star running back Joe Mixon is also out this fall after breaking a girl’s face. And Frank Shannon is likely out for sexual assualt. See? I will, too, talk about oklahoma football.
No.2 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. WEST VIRGINIA 2:30pm ABC
Oh, my goodness. Remember that play last year when the Texas defensive line exploded Clint Trickett? He was motionless on the field for an alarming amount of time? That is going to be the ENTIRE GAME against Bama. On both sides of the ball. I know this to be true. And two more things: Dana Holgorsen will be sarcastic and mean to his team (it isn’t his fault they stink) and this will be his last season opener at West Virginia.
No.1 Florida State Seminoles vs. OKLAHOMA STATE 7pm ABC
What I want to see is an Oklahoma State offense firing on all cylinders and taking advantage of what will be an overwhelming pro-orange crowd, and an Oklahoma State defense taking advantage of a Florida State offense dealing with a Heiman hangover and a mountain of off-season distractions… But I won’t see that.
I have been a Florida State fan my whole life. They have been my No.2 team since I was a child. But I am not a big fan of Mr. Winston. He is a terrific football player and a charismatic personality and has been seemingly unphased by the off-the-field problems that routinely come up. But he doesn’t get credit for not letting his own actions become a distraction. He has brought this all on himself. He isn’t blocking out the noise and the clutter and focusing on football for one simple reason- he doesn’t care. It doesn’t bother him, plain and simple. It isn’t a distraction if you don’t care, right? Right.
I still like the Noles, but as I said earlier this summer I am all in with the Big 12. Get some, Pokes.
Sunday, August 31st
SMU Mustangs @ No.10 BAYLOR 6:30pm Fox Sports 1
Baylor has the college football world almost entirely to itself (only one other game on that night) and Bryce Petty will get his Heisman campaign off to a blazing start. It’s a big night for Baylor, who not only get to make a statement on TV to set the tone for the year, but they also are opening their new stadium.
Ugly early and gets worse as the night goes on. SMU is bad, Baylor is good and Art Briles is going to pile it on.
See you guys down by the stadium!